we fall like stars
There is a limit, it seems, to the number of nights that Darcy will allow herself to be dragged into the desert on account of college credit – specifically, the number of nights until the semester ends and Jane signs off on the paperwork.
"I mean, I'll still come with you sometimes," Darcy tells her one day. She doesn't look up from her phone, just keeps tapping the screen and watching birds fly and explode.
Jane takes it to mean "I'll follow you into your obsession to a point, home-girl," and tries not to be offended by it. She spins around in her chair and heads to the roof, planning to tell Darcy later that she's tired of the sound of that stupid bird game, not that this escape is her own form of me-time.
She can see it in Darcy's eyes, in her advisor's eyes – this is madness, this nightly vigil, staring at the sky waiting for a wormhole that hasn't appeared again since it took him up, up and away.
All that is left of him now is the extra chair pulled up to her makeshift fire pit, which she never sits in and hasn't had the heart to move, even after forty-five days.
She remembers the touch of his lips, and her entire body feels tingly and warm; however, there is nothing here to keep her warm except her thermos of coffee, and even that has cooled.
Agent Coulson seems adamant that she continue to research the wormhole, even setting up a research trailer at the spot that Thor appeared. She slept here at first, spending her days waiting for data to analyze because, she realized, the Bi-frost or whatever he called it doesn't discriminate between night and day.
After a while, it became a night-shift sort of thing – every single occurrence happened after a change in the stars which is very obvious at night, but nothing has changed yet. The scanners show nothing, as does the radar. There's no satellite imagery to analyze, no drastic changes to the stars. They're her stars, the stars that have always been there except for a brief shining moment when her stars and his aligned.
Star-crossed lovers in the truest sense.
Oh god, she really is going mad.
She locks up the trailer (the security system they have is pretty sweet) and heads to her van, glancing at the runes carved into the dirt near the trailer. The wind has blown dirt away and moved more to cover it, but she can still make out what's left, and it sends a jolt through her body every time.
Jane starts up her van, lights dancing off of rocks and scrub bushes as she guides it back through the desert and onto the main road. Back home, she knows that her RV awaits her, silent and empty on the lot behind her office space.
The lights stretch out before her into the darkness. Day 72 with no trace of a wormhole.
Jane heads back to Las Cruces for a meeting with her doctoral committee, though Erik is absent – scheduling conflict, the email says, and while she's curious, she's hardly the first graduate student who has an overextended advisor. Her committee is excited about her research, and urges her to continue cautiously, lest she be disappointed. They're even more excited at government funding – more excited that she'd thought they'd be, given the caveats that Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. have added on her research – but then again, it's funding they don't have to provide and credibility that they sorely need.
Shouldering her bag with a sigh, she heads out of the physics building and, squinting, into the bright New Mexico sunlight.
She stops by the library on her way out, first to look for some articles but her interest turns elsewhere immediately and she soon finds herself in mythology, pulling down books on Norse gods and goddess. She sits on the cool tile floor and spreads the books out, scanning through for articles on the man - god - himself.
She doesn't get much time to learn about her strange new love interest. Her phone vibrates before she can even read the first article and she hurries to answer the text lest it disturb another library patron (liberal arts grad students are particularly feisty in the summertime).
There are two friends from grad school still in town working on their research, and she's promised to meet up with them at the local Mexican joint with a reputation for fantastic green sauce and even better margaritas.
Joe is happy to see her, and so is Liza, and they down margaritas and chicken nachos and enchiladas and discuss research.
"I can't believe you actually think you've found a real, functional wormhole," Liza exclaims, and Jane can't help but smile at her friend's appreciation.
She hasn't told them about the government funding, or the fact that the wormhole is really a bridge between her reality and that of a very cut god who she would really like to get to know better. She hasn't told anyone about Thor – anyone who doesn't know, at least – and as they lift their glasses to the miracles of physics, she vows to keep it that way.
She spends the night at Liza's and when she returns to her empty derelict gas station and her empty RV and her research station with craptastic results the next day, she sighs. It's not like she thought all her problems would be solved sooner rather than later, but a girl can dream.
Day 127 without a sighting.
There's a small voice in her brain that wonders what the hell she's thinking. It's unusually vocal when she spends time reading the mythology books that she checked out from State's library.
It's weird to find out that the gods from children's storybooks actually exist, and that they're aliens, and that they travel to earth via an Einstein-Rosen bridge of epic proportions, which she's seen in action (it was completely unexpected and nothing like she thought it would be).
It's not just the fact that the gods do exist – or, rather that primitive societies had contact with technologically-advanced aliens – because after all, Jane's a physicist and used to thinking outside Schrödinger's box. It's just that myths coming to life and being so incredibly handsome and charming is outside the realm of her imagination.
She messes around with the simulations at home, plugging in new numbers to alter her feedback, but each run takes hours to produce decent data and she has time to kill. She's downloaded that Darcy's bird game onto her phone because it's fun to fling birds at objects if the sound is turned off, and because her other means of distraction is slowly untangling her.
Reading about Thor feels like cheating on a test and like finding out you cheated off the wrong person: she knows all the answers, and sometimes the answers suck.
In mythology, he is an epic figure of power with a terrible temper, who wields a mighty hammer that only he can hold. In reality, he does have a pretty bad temper and is a pretty tough fight with – again – a hammer . In her mind, they are two separate people – one a warrior, the other a man who sat beside her on a dinky lawn chair, explaining the cosmos to her.
There's also the uncomfortable fact that his wife is, in legend, that very beautiful warrior-woman who showed up to rescue him from the horrors of Midgard, her own home. She's not sure how that plays out in this universe, but she's thinking it would have come down to combat or she would have definitely been slapped after she kissed Thor in front of Sif.
When all is said and done, she's not really sure what she's doing here, with this little crush. She's not the type of girl to fall head over heels for a random stranger, nor does she have a tendency for one-night stands with handsome men. She's all about committed relationships and being on an even playing field – her guy has to be someone she can have a conversation with who won't make her feel too smart for using multisyllabic words in a complex sentence.
Her usual boyfriend is someone from a similar field who has some similar interests. She's not used to warriors.
She's also not used to someone as attractive as Thor being into her AND not being a total tool. That's a new one too.
The entire experience is new and scary – immediate attraction, defying instructions to be with him, spending hours plugging in numbers and slugging through tomes just to earn a glimpse into his life, just to find him and try to understand him just a little bit better.
There's also a small part of her that screams "It's totally worth it" even if the fruits of her labors don't reinforce this point.
Its day 258 and the desert nights are at their coldest yet.
Darcy drags her out to the bar with the promise of "beers and bros" even though it's only the beers that Jane wants.
It's not that she's lusting over Thor still – it's that the small-town population here is nowhere near as appealing as he is/was/could possibly be.
They get a few beers, and play some pool, pretending to be pool-sharks but failing miserably at it. They drink and laugh and for the first time in what feels like forever, she really is having fun.
They stumble back to the lab, and somehow manage to climb up to the roof. Jane makes a fire in the pit as Darcy collapses into his chair, though Jane doesn't grumble too much.
"So how much time do you spend up here, looking at the stars?" Darcy asks, innocent curiosity in her voice.
"Enough," Jane admits, sitting back into the lawn chair. It creaks under her weight, but not as much as it did under his.
"Do you really think he's coming back?" Darcy is gazing out into space and Jane follows suit, but she knows her friend doesn't see the stars as balls of gas or doesn't wonder about bridges to other dimensions through theoretical wormholes. To Darcy, the stars are pretty and oh so bright out here in the middle of nowhere Puente Antiguo, and Jane takes a moment to stop and think about the beauty instead of the science.
Jane sighs. "Maybe. I hope so."
There's a pause. "Do you think you can bring him back?" Darcy asks.
Jane doesn't answer her question.
She's started to go running in the morning, enjoying the feel of cool air on her face before the sun fully rises and the valley bakes in its relentless heat. The pounding of her feet against the pavement and her breathing are almost mechanical as she runs past the diner and through the town square, clearing her mind of all her worries. Running is when she's most peaceful, when she's listening to her body instead of her troublesome mind.
It's only when she rounds the corner and heads toward home that agitation set in again.
There is a sleek black car parked in front of her lab, and she already knows its Coulson. She's been wondering when he'll show up –she knows they've installed a rootkit on her research computers, so they know exactly what she's working on while she works, but she knew he'd have to show up eventually to "discuss research" or whatever the government wants to call it.
She slows down to a walk, and tries to calm herself down by breathing in and out slowly.
"Good morning, Miss Foster," Coulson calls from the door to her lab.
"Good morning, Agent Coulson," she replies, sidestepping him as she enters the door and heading straight for the fridge, where she grabs a bottle of Gatorade.
"I was hoping we could discuss your research," he says, taking a seat at her kitchen table.
Jane takes another drink of the Gatorade and sits down across from him. He hasn't offered to wait while she showers, so she knows it's now or never for this G-man.
"Anything specific? I've been sending weekly reports for the last year so I need to know if you have any particular questions about my methodology or my findings," she asks. Her tank top sticks to the small of her back and she feels sticky all over.
"I've read them."
Jane takes another drink from the bottle. It was one thing to prove that wormholes could and did exist. It's another entirely to try to create one.
It had taken her a while to figure out that Coulson didn't just want her to research wormholes and inter-universe travel but, rather, to create a wormhole to bring Thor back. And lord knows she's come up with several different theories, but simulations show no success and even though the government is funding her, she's not entirely sure how much any of the devices she's envisioned would cost to make.
"Then what do you think?" she asks
"Can you make it work?" Coulson asks.
Jane takes a deep breath. "No," she says, and with the single word goes all her hopes and dreams. "There's no way we could make a stable wormhole. We don't have an energy source big enough to handle that sort of creation."
"What if we did have that energy source?" he asks, and she shakes her head. She expects the government to have bizarre sources of energy and money but for this sort of thing?
"There's no way to predict where the wormhole would end up – there's only so much we know about Asgard, and none of that is about the topography. We could end up in the middle of the planet."
Coulson doesn't say anything immediately, so Jane takes the time to drink the rest of the Gatorade. She feels sticky all over and all she wants to do is take a shower and not think about this. She hasn't said it out loud before but the truth is this: there's no way that she can find Thor before he comes back to find her. Humans, for all their technological advancements, are still in the Stone Age when it comes to Asgardians.
"Thank you for your time, Miss Foster," Agent Coulson says, standing up and buttoning his suit jacket. "We'll be in touch."
She watches the car as far as the horizon, then finally goes to her bathroom to have that shower. With the water pouring over her head and shoulders, she lets herself cry for the first time in over a year.
She marks the number at the bottom of day on her calendar, then turns back to her laptop. She's almost done with her dissertation, though this list of abbreviations is killing her. There's a job offer from S.H.I.E.L.D. on her fridge, held to the surface by a magnet the shape of the letter "F". There's also another printed email, this time from Tony Stark, on her counter, but she's not sure what to do with that one and how he even knows about what she does.
She stalls on the job offers because she doesn't want to leave. She feels like her feet are trapped in the ground of this small town, and will be until she knows, without a doubt, that Thor won't return to her. Despite S.H.I.E.L.D.'s prodding and – sometimes – pleading, she won't help them build a wormhole that could submerge them in an ocean or trap them in a mountain. She's removed all of her speculative files from her computer so they can't spy on her. She's passionate about her research, and she wants to go to Asgard as much as they do, but not until she knows that she won't die in the process.
There's also the part of her which worries about leaving: if she leaves, will Thor look for her?
And there's the other part that eats at her brain in the night: what if he's forgotten about her? It's been well over a year and she's just a mortal who is small and insignificant in the grander schemes of the universe.
It's that frame of mind that gets her agitated, that keeps her up at night wondering if she means half as much to him as he does to her.
Suddenly, the alarms on her computer go off and she glances over to find that her scanners are blinking and data is popping up all over the screen.
There is an occurrence, in the desert, directly on top of the runes.
She grabs her keys and jumps into her van, speeding toward the runes at full throttle. While she drives, a funnel cloud starts to form and dips down towards the ground. She punches the gas, even though she's not sure that it's Thor who will appear and not someone else instead.
She parks far enough away that she doesn't get hit by any debris when the funnel cloud makes impact. There's a cloud of dust, and she exists her vehicle slowly. Her heart is pounding and her legs feel shaky and she's so excited and scared at the same time that it hardly seems normal.
But when the dust clears, he is there. He is not wearing his armor but rather a pair of dark pants and a grey shirt – much like how she found him the first time. He carries a satchel over his shoulder, where she can make out the form of his hammer.
Thor has returned, not as a warrior, but as someone else entirely. She doesn't want to say equal, but something more like that, and the thought makes her weak.
"Jane Foster," he calls, and she wobbles a little on her unsteady legs. "I am sorry that I did not return sooner. The Bi-Frost was damaged."
"How?" she asks, her curiosity gaining the best of her.
Thor comes closer, looking embarrassed. "I damaged it, to stop my brother. I did it, knowing it would keep me from you."
"Sounds like you did what you needed to do," Jane responds almost automatically, as her eyes scan every inch of him, still the same.
"I hope you can forgive me," he says. He is directly in front of her now, and he takes her hand and kisses the back of it, his eyes never leaving hers.
She takes a deep breath, and tries not to cry. "There's nothing to forgive," she tells him, because it's true. Four hundred and fifty one days of waiting are so worth seeing his face again.